The importance of collaboration in VP research and development

Samuel Edelbring from the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden recently visited the Department of Educational Development & Research at Maastricht University in The Netherlands as a ‘visiting scholar’. Both institutes are involved in the eViP programme. During his stay he discussed his work shared ideas on virtual patients (VPs) with fellow researchers. Here he talks to Sian Claire Owen from The University of Warwick, UK, about his experience and outlines the importance of collaboration and exchanging ideas.

Firstly Samuel, can you tell us about your line of research?
My research is about the role of VPs in health profession education. This technology has been around for many years, but the educational implementation is still hesitant. One reason for that, in my point of view, is that a VP has it’s own character as a learning tool – it is not a paper case, it is not a seminar and it is not a real patient. The role(s) of VPs needs to be clearer for teachers and students before we see a massive regular use of VPs.

My research is about finding out what kind of a learning tool VPs are, and under what conditions they contribute well to student learning. I do that by using student interviews and questionnaires that address student conceptions of the role and nature of different study situations with VPs.

You recently came to Maastricht University as a visiting scholar to discuss your work on virtual patients. What were the objectives, and what did you hope to achieve?
I wanted to present my personal work and also the work of the VP-lab and Centre for Medical Education at Karolinska Institutet research group. We hope to establish connections between us and important nodes in the medical
education community. The guys here at Maastricht play an influential role in the scientific growth of the community.

Did you feel that your visit was valuable?
Oh yes, it was very valuable. I got to meet and discuss with researchers to get a sense of how they work, what issues that are important to them, and observe how they approach research education and educational research in a professional way.

I also got to present my own work and received valuable feedback on it. It gave me a lot of food for thought and directions for future research. I would like to congratulate Prof. Cees van der Vleuten who has a great team of researchers here: Prof. Jeroen van Merrienboer, Dr. Diana Dolmans and Dr. Bas deLeng to mention just a few of them.

How important is collaboration between different medical institutions in terms of developing ideas?
Academic development both in terms of knowledge and theory, as well as products and their implementation, is of little value if we don’t share our ideas and results between different institutions and stakeholders. This is widely acknowledged.

Still, in general people tend not to collaborate to any great extent with others because in practice it takes its toll, and it can be frustrating to realise that others have different conceptions and driving forces than yourself. Collaboration doesn’t make things easier – but it certainly makes them better, so the conclusion is that there are few alternatives to it. Personally I’ve have learned a lot by collaborating in this project, not only about VPs but about how other European countries deal with education and research.

What are your plans for the future?
Oh, I have great plans Sian! I’m half way through an exciting research project on education, and I have about two years left of work to finish my thesis.
After that I’m looking forward to exploring further how we learn and make best use of technology in that process.

Technology has increasingly taken the role of what we use to call our environment – it means that our environment, and consequently conditions for learning and living our lives, will change quite rapidly. You and I and others all need to follow and report on these developments closely.

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